One of the first plant species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the Furbish's lousewort is distinguished by its narrow habitat niche. This herbaceous plant is found only on the mainstem of the Saint John River, which flows from northern Maine into Canada, and drains to the Atlantic Ocean through the Bay of Fundy.
Since listing the Furbish's lousewort in 1978, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has worked with partners to protect this plant throughout its range. Proactive conservation efforts by the Maine Natural Areas Program, Environment Canada, and members of the forest products industry have been key to ensuring the persistence of this species.
In 1986, Congress eliminated the primary threat to the species by deauthorizing the Dickey-Lincoln hydroelectric dam project. The dam would have flooded 80 thousand acres of Maine’s north woods, including most of the Furbish’s lousewort habitat.
Furbish's lousewort has another distinguishing feature: it was named for Kate Furbish, a pioneering botanist and botanical artist who discovered the plant in 1880 and submitted a specimen to the preeminent herbarium of her time for classification. In a letter to the curator of the herbarium, Furbish expressed ambivalence about having a plant named after her, but noted, “As a new species is rarely found in New England and few plants are named for women, it pleases me.”
Reaching about two feet high when mature, the Furbish’s lousewort is distinguished by alternate fern-like leaves widely spaced along a stem topped by a tight cluster of small, tube-like yellow flowers.
Furbish's lousewort is an endemic species with narrow ecological requirements, found only on the mainstem of the Saint John River in Maine and Canada. It requires periodic ice-scouring events along the riverbanks where it grows to help it flourish, including, by keeping competitive vegetation at bay.
A natural body of running water.
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